Suing the TV Service Provider or Others

Posted on June 29, 2015 by Matthew Paré

When faced with a large claim against you and you feel you did nothing wrong it is only natural to want to point the finger at others in your defense.  In the context of a typical TV signal piracy case this idea comes up in the form of defendants wanting to sue the satellite or cable TV service provider for improperly setting up the account and installing it wrong at the place of business.  When the account is set up wrong it is easy for TV programming to be shown without paying the correct commercial price.  While bringing a third-party claim is something to consider, in most cases it is not advisable to pursue that third-party complaint, for the reasons discussed below.  

For every TV account there are terms of service (or customer agreement, or terms of use, or terms and conditions) that go along with it.  In other words, there is a written contract that details the type of account, the agreement between the user and the provider, and any restrictions regarding the use of the account and what type of programming can be shown. Notwithstanding any different impressions the salesperson or technicians may have given, the written contract between the user and provider is what governs the account.  If it was a residential account being used in a commercial location or even the wrong type of commercial account, you may end up showing something illegally without even knowing you did anything wrong.  From the TV service provider’s perspective, however, it was the user that was in violation of the terms of service.  In fact, astonishing as it may seem, in some cases in which defendants in TV signal piracy cases decide to bring a claim against the TV service provider the TV service provider will actually bring a cross-claim against the customer, essentially suing their own customer for violating the terms of service.  

It may seem ridiculous and unfair that a TV service provider can lead someone to believe they have a perfectly fine account for their place of business and then when there is a problem will point to a lengthy, fine print contract to say that the customer was actually the one at fault.  That is exactly the way it is, unfortunately.  If there is at least something to learn from this is it to be very careful about the type of TV account that you have and to read the fine print.  The correct terminology for the right type of an account is a “public viewing commercial account.”  Anything other than that will likely cause problems if the TV is anywhere except a private residence.

One other argument the TV service providers often make when confronted with a claim against them in this sort of situation is that the technicians who installed the TV system were independent contractors not directly working for the satellite TV provider, for example.  That being the case, from their perspective they were also being hurt by the incorrect installation or account designation.  Whether the installer was actually an agent of the TV service provider and should be considered an employee or independent contractor is the type of thing that will likely be litigated extensively in any third-party complaint in a TV signal piracy case against the provider.

The other major reason why it is typically not the right move to try to sue the TV service provider is because of a technical legal reason.  In short, the federal TV signal piracy statutes do not authorize a claim for indemnification or contribution.  Therefore, because there is no statutory authority to assert such a claim it is possible that the third-party defendant can bring a motion to dismiss the claim and prevail.  In fact, that exact result has happened in some cases of third-party complaints in TV signal piracy cases.  Again, this may seem very unfair, but the reason for this is that if a defendant in a TV signal piracy case truly had no reason to believe they were doing anything improper the damages they should be exposed to in the underlying claim of TV piracy are also very small so theoretically there would be no reason to drag a third-party into the litigation.

In deciding to bring a claim against someone else in response to your TV signal piracy case, you need to thoughtfully consider whether it is worth it.  This should bring to mind practical considerations such as the time and money that may be spent pursuing the claim, the stress, uncertainty, and risk associated with the claim, and the practical recoverability.  Especially if you are suing someone like a customer who might have brought in equipment and put the fight on, or an employee who did this without authorization, or the installer, you need to consider whether they would even be able to pay a settlement or judgment against them and how difficult it may be to collect that money if they do not have assets. 

Lastly, it should be noted that in some rare cases it does make sense to sue the TV service provider or others when you have been sued for TV signal piracy.  In fact, attorney Matthew Pare has successfully done so.  However, the circumstances must be right to warrant pursuing such a claim and it is best to discuss that possibility with an attorney in light of the particular facts of your case.  Matthew Pare can be reached at 619-869-4999 and will provide an honest straight-forward evaluation of this possibility in your case.

TV Signal Piracy

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